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Jesse Kornbluth/Head Butler Creative Services

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Feb 28, 2016
Category: Writing /Creative Services

I used to teach screenwriting at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Among the students I helped launch — when they were just 19 — were Vince Gilligan (“Breaking Bad”) and Chris Columbus (“Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Home Alone,” “Harry Potter”). They were naturals. Vince and Chris needed agents, not guidance. But they clearly got the one big lesson I taught.

The big lesson: The people who will judge your work say they love movies, but they don’t. They love their jobs. And if they make your movie and it flops, they can lose their jobs. But if they reject your script, they risk nothing. And that is exactly what they want to do with your script: stop reading it after 10 pages.

My students screamed. That was impossible. Movie executives love movies — hadn’t many of them gone to NYU?

My response was to invite David Brown to speak to my students. And David Brown — who produced “Jaws,” “The Sting,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and many other hits, and had once been the very successful executive vice president of creative operations at Fox — told them they didn’t have 10 pages, they had only 5. Because film executives not only don’t want to make your film, they don’t even want to read it.

You write. But not screenplays. You wonder: Does that apply to books?

Yes. Unless you’re famous. When I confessed to a brand-name writer that I couldn’t get into “Let the Great World Spin” — which won the 2009 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction — he said, “It gets better after page 50.” No one will say that about your book. Book editors and agents are overwhelmed. They’d love to discover a great unknown writer, but you’d better be great in Chapter 1. And keep on being great.

For decades, writers and would-be writers alike have asked me to read their work before they send it out. Maybe it’s because I was an English major who read shelves of books. Maybe it’s because I’ve developed a writing style that’s easy to read — I believe that stories and anecdotes are more memorable and powerful than the ideas expressed by those stories and anecdotes. Or because I have a hard time saying no.

Now I’m saying no to free editorial advice to all but close friends.

And I’m saying yes to Jesse Kornbluth Creative Services — an enterprise that hopes to help writers do their best work.

Why me? And why now?

In the last month, writers have sent me two unpublished books and a screenplay.

The novelist had hired a coach, the kind of writer who gets a B in every subject and wins no prizes at graduation. The result was a novel that colored between the lines, like a ladylike book from the 1950s. Style? None. The writer’s voice had been completely flattened. I didn’t feel guilty when I stopped reading.

The memoirist had hired a professional writer as a collaborator, and the collaborator apparently hadn’t read a single memoir published in the last few decades. No Cheryl Strayed. No Mary Karr. No Elizabeth Gilbert. No Jeanette Walls. The manuscript read like a privately published family history. A total nothingburger of a book.

The screenplay was the most mystifying. The story that inspired it was fascinating, but instead of telling that story, the writer had made a PowerPoint dramatization of the least interesting characters. The script was a clean miss.

In each case, money had passed hands, possibly quite a lot of it. In each case, the writer had the expectation of good advice. In each case, the writer lost time and wasted resources.

Surely, I can give better advice that those writers got.

My services will include:
— brainstorming, so you can describe the book/script you’re writing in a sentence or two (the “elevator pitch”).
— editing your draft, both at 30,000 feet and line by line.
— reading and commenting on your draft.
— referring you to talented Web designers and publicists and, very rarely, to agents I know and like. If I can’t get you to an agent, I’ll tell you how to identify the right agent for your work. And edit your pitch letter.

My fees? As appropriate.

Interested? Write me at HeadButlerNYC@AOL.com.

If you’re not at the stage where you want this kind of help but wouldn’t mind some general advice, here you go:

THE DAVID MAMET MEMO
Ok, he’s a jerk. And this is for TV writers. No matter. It’s smart smart smart.

STEPHEN KING: ON WRITING
King and I agree on almost everything. We believe in what George Orwell called “prose like a window pane” — that is, prose the reader doesn’t notice and admire as “beautifully crafted” writing. Instead, you put the reader in the room, you involve the reader with the people you’re writing about. The way to do that: subject, verb, object, subject, verb, object. Action verbs. Adjectives when absolutely necessary. Adverbs never. Listen to Isaac Babel: “No iron can strike the heart with as much force as a period in exactly the right place.”

BIRD BY BIRD
Anne Lamott’s classic.

TWYLA THARP: THE CREATIVE HABIT
Thesis: Creativity is muscle memory. Start exercising.

BETTER WRITING
My one-screen screed.